ORGANISED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), an exhibition that will run at London's Victoria &Albert (V&A) Museum until January 2014, explores the history of pearls from the early Roman Empire to the present, and is one of the highlight events of the 2013 Qatar-UK Year of Culture.
With over 200 pieces of jewellery on display, alongside works of art that highlight the extraordinary variety of colour and shape of natural and cultured pearls, the exhibition showcases how both East and West have employed pearls over centuries as a symbol of status and wealth and how tastes vary throughout different cultures.
The exhibition begins with an insight into the natural history of pearls and charts the centuries old history of pearl fishing from across the Arabian Gulf to Europe and Asia. A collection of rare pearls and pearl-bearing molluscs demonstrates how Gulf pearls have developed to become the world's the most desirable and valuable. The exhibition demonstrates how it is not oysters alone that can bear pearls but other molluscs as well, including some spectacular black-lipped mussels, which are also on display.
The event reveals the dangerous working methods of pearl divers years ago and highlights the trading practices of pearl merchants in the Gulf, some of which were less than generous towards the men who were risking their lives in the merchant's employ. Examples of some of the antique equipment once employed for grading, weighing and valuing pearls can also be seen at the London event.
Although it is generally the Japanese who are credited with the discovery of methods to develop the cultured pearl, examples of experiments in achieving these ends in the 1700s by Swedish physician and botanist, Carl Linnaeus are on display, alongside the scientific instruments used in the first half of the 20th century to distinguish between natural and cultured pearls.
The exhibition chronicles pearls in jewellery throughout history, showcasing Ancient Roman items crafted as early as the 1st century AD before bringing the exhibition up to date with exquisite 21st century pieces.
Through antiquity, myths and legends have surrounded the pearl and early examples of Roman and Byzantine jewellery demonstrate how they were used as a symbol of power and rank in society.
In medieval times pearls were transformed from an icon of luxury and ostentation into a symbol of purity and chastity. During the European Renaissance period, pearls began to be used extravagantly in jewellery and featured prominently in a new genre of portrait painting to denote extreme authority and wealth. Paintings and portrait miniatures featuring nobles, courtiers and affluent merchants of society, adorned with pearls, illustrate how significant the pearl became in achieving this impression. …